Seven Challenges Of Traveling With Kids (And How to Overcome Them)

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m always looking for good excuses for traveling with kids. Earlier this month, my family and I traveled to Penticton, BC to attend the Family Adventure Summit. It’s a conference dedicated to bringing together families who have made travel (especially long-term travel) part of their way of life.

This post was updated on January 9, 2020.

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Ready for takeoff! (September 2017)

A conference dedicated to families who travel with kids

The conference was organized by Brandon Pearce and his family, who have been living nomadically for years, as well as a number of other nomadic families who came on board to help plan, organize, and serve as speakers for this conference. Brandon’s family travel story was even featured on the 4-Hour Work Week!

It was an amazing three days, full of opportunities to connect, learn, and reflect on our life as a family. And it was made better by the fact that there was also a children’s program that was both engaging and educational for our kids. Every member of our family was able to be a part of the conference, and I loved that. After the weekend was over, my husband and I were filled with renewed motivation to fulfill our dream of living a travel-filled life. We can’t wait to attend 2018’s Family Adventure Summit, which will take place October 30 to November 2 in San Migeul de Allende, Mexico.

So excited about the Family Adventure Summit (September 2017)

Challenges to traveling with kids

The families I met at the Family Adventure Summit were so inspiring to talk to. Like us, they all had their own reasons to travel with kids. But then it got me thinking. Why don’t more families do this? Why aren’t more families traveling with kids?

There are a number of reasons why we don’t travel with kids. It’s expensive, it’s scary, it’s unpredictable, and so on. But for every reason not to, there’s an equally compelling reason why you should do it. Here are seven common challenges to traveling with kids, and my suggestions for overcoming them.

Kids in Portland museum
No matter where they are, these kids love to play (September 2016)

#1: Traveling with kids is too expensive

This is one of the biggest reasons I hear from other families about why they don’t travel with kids, and it’s a valid concern. Kids are leeches! When was the last time they paid their own way when it comes to travel? All joking aside, the expense of travel is something that affects all kinds of travelers – solo, adult groups, and families. But there are plenty of travelers who have found ways to overcome the expense, either through travel hacking, budget travel, slow travel, or a combination of all three. You don’t have to fly First Class or stay in luxury accommodations to have a rich experience. At the same time, you don’t have stay in dingy hostels with your kids to save money on family travel.

Some of the ways we’ve made travel with kids more affordable include choosing destinations that have lower costs of living, taking less expensive modes of travel, staying at vacation rentals, utilizing public transportation, or visiting places during off-peak times. Keep an eye out for good deals, and you’ll be surprised at how affordable travel with kids can be.

Paraguayan paper bills, used while traveling with kids in Paraguay
Paraguayan money (April 2013)

#2. They might get sick

Kids, especially young kids, are fragile and more susceptible to illnesses than adults. People thought we were crazy to take our kids to South Asia or South America. Is the food there safe to eat? What about the water? What about diseases like malaria?

Before we travel, we always check the CDC health page for that country. It gives us information about the major health concerns for that country, as well recommended vaccines or prophylaxis to take before travel. We’re lucky that my health care provider has a travel nurse that can give us advice before we travel, but if your provider doesn’t offer this service, most countries have travel clinics that do.

Another health precaution that we always take before we travel with kids is to purchase travel insurance. This will help cover any medical costs that arise during our travels, and you can often get good coverage at an affordable rate.

Helping to prepare a meal in Paraguay (April 2013)

#3. The world is not safe

The news media does a great job of reminding us how dangerous the world is. Reports of child abductions, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters are enough to make us not want to leave the house! Even Hollywood perpetuates this fear, with movies like Taken, The Impossible, and No Escape. But here’s the thing, we’re just as likely to get hurt at home than we are on the road. Yet, we continue with our daily lives none the less.

For our family, before we travel, we always make sure to take certain safety precautions, like registering with the U.S. State Department, and making sure our travel insurance includes emergency evacuation. On the road, we’re vigilant about making sure we know where our kids are (whether they are by our side or in trusted hands). We talk to our kids about what they should do when strangers approach them, and we try and make sure we’re not putting ourselves in situations that will greatly endanger our lives.

We know that part of the adventure of travel means stepping out of our comfort zone, so our main focus on safety is balancing the adventure with common sense. And as we’ve traveled as a family, we are learning that the world is not as scary as people say.

Trying to stay safe on our inner tubes in Sumatra (September 2015)

#4. They’re too young to remember

It’s true that if you travel with very young kids, they will most likely not remember any part of your trip. But that shouldn’t prevent you from going on your trip. My daughter was three months old when we took her on her very first cross-country road trip. She has no memory of this, although we do occasionally show her pictures from that trip. What she does know is that travel has always been a big part of her young life, and going on new adventures is no big deal for her.

Part of our jobs as parents is to socialize our kids, and encourage skills and values that we hope they will have in the future. We talk to our babies, even though they don’t understand. We expose them to new foods, even though they’re too young to know the difference. And we offer them the experience of travel, even if they may not remember.

One of the ways we’ve tried to preserve our family travel memories is through photo books. It’s fun to peruse through our books and reminisce about our past adventures. We like using Shutterfly, because we can connect it to Google Photos, which we use to store our travel photos.

Playing together in New York City, at age 4 and 1 (July 2014)

#5. It’s too stressful to travel with children

Raising kids is stressful enough. Why would you want to make it more stressful by doing it in a new and unfamiliar environment? I ask this to myself every time we are rushing from one terminal to the next, trying to catch our connecting flight, or trying to get the kids to stop arguing in the back seat while my husband and I are attempting to navigate around an unfamiliar city.

But for all the stress that kids can bring, both traveling and at home, there are also so many enriching moments that can come out of spending time with them. This is, after all, why we chose to have kids in the first place.

We’ve found that building in a lot of downtime can help decrease the amount of stress that traveling can bring. Instead of trying to cram in as many activities as you can in a day, choose only one or two activities to do, and spend the rest of the time at a park or hanging out at a cafe.

At the airport, try and arrive earlier than you would, to give you and your kids enough time to get to the gate. Choose layovers that are at least a few hours long, so that your kids have some time to run around and burn off some extra energy, before getting back on the plane. Carry along some snacks when you’re out and about to avoid mid-afternoon meltdowns. We like bringing along some Sahale snacks when we travel.

My daughter in meltdown mode in India (June 2016)

#6. Most places aren’t family-friendly

People are sometimes surprised when we say that we’ve taken our kids to places like India or Paraguay or even Las Vegas. These places don’t spark the image of family-friendliness compared to places like Disneyland or Universal Studios. But in actuality, our kids had just as much fun visiting these places as they would visiting a theme park.

For the most part, I consider any place as family-friendly, barring circumstances like political violence or civil war (you do still need to use your head about whether a place is safe for a traveler to visit). The way I see it, kids exist everywhere, so why wouldn’t everywhere be considered family-friendly?

When you’re traveling with kids, it helps to be open to what the definition of family-friendly might mean in the places that you visit. Just because a destination doesn’t have a theme park or amenities that your children may be used to, it doesn’t mean that the people there are not going to be friendly towards you and your family.

Las Vegas, Nevada, a city that's surprisingly great for traveling with kids
Family-friendly activities abound in Las Vegas (December 2010)

#7. Traveling with kids is too unpredictable

As parents, we are taught that having a routine is the cornerstone to raising well-adjusted kids. But I would posit to say that teaching kids flexibility is even more important. Flexibility encourages kids to develop resilience, and resilience is what helps us as humans cope with the difficulties that life throws us.

Life is unpredictable. Why limit this truth to just travel? When we condition our kids to exist in super rigid environments, they are unable to handle any slight deviations from the norm. It throws them off. Alternatively, when we allow for some flexibility and unpredictability, kids are able to take what they have learned from past instances of unexpectedness and tackle the current situation.

This is not to say that we need to completely throw routine and structure out the window. It is true that kids do need a constant, and in my opinion, your presence in their lives as a supportive and caring parent plays a big role in that. What I am saying is, we do a great disservice to our kids by only limiting them to the familiarity of routine, and it is the very unpredictability of travel that helps teach them the tools to cope with the ups and downs of life.

A child playing at a playground in Portland, Oregon, part of a family traveling with kids
Having some impromptu playtime in Portland (September 2016)

It’s all up to us to overcome the challenges of traveling with kids

The world is a big, enormous place, and it’s a shame to not try and see at least a fraction of it. We give ourselves a variety of reasons for not traveling with kids, but in the end it’s up to us to choose to accept those reasons or work to overcome them.

We met so many families at the Family Adventure Summit who have found ways to overcome these challenges of traveling with kids. It’s refreshing to know that family travel can be done, and that it is helping to create well-rounded and globally-minded kids.

If you’re still on the fence about whether traveling with kids is possible, all I can ask is this: What’s really keeping you from seeing the world with your kids?

Seven Challenges of Traveling With Kids (And How to Overcome Them) | The Wandering Daughter | Tips for how to overcome the challenges of traveling with kids.

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3 Responses

  1. I love these tips! People have so many fears about traveling with kids, but there are many ways around them as you just proved.

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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